Far too many of us have been impacted by a suicide at some point in our lives. With the force of a natural disaster that occurs while the world sleeps, suicide can be precipitated by few if any signs and is often completely unexpected. We might know that others are hurting but are just not aware of how bad it actually is until it’s too late. Those left behind not only face the grief that naturally follows loss but also the trauma of losing someone they love in such a tragic way, which can involve a complex web of conflicting emotions. Sadness can be compounded by anger toward the deceased for choosing to end their life in such a way and possibly toward anyone who might have known enough to prevent it. Survivors can also deal with guilt and spiritual dilemmas resulting from the inability to comprehend why – why did he lose hope, why didn’t I see the signs, why did God let this happen?
Stigma regarding mental health problems in general and suicide in particular complicates our understanding of what the individual with thoughts of suicide is experiencing and intending. Individuals who have thoughts of suicide or self-harm often do not actually want to die; the weight of what they are feeling, believing, or experiencing is so massive that the individual wants relief but may be unsure how to find the solace they seek. Suicidal individuals may believe that the obstacles they face are insurmountable. All they know is that they cannot fathom living another day feeling the way they do. Sometimes these silent sufferers reach out for help, and those who are entrusted with this message of need must receive it in all seriousness. Suicidal thoughts should never be taken lightly or dismissively but examined thoroughly to examine the person’s risk factors and intent. As loved ones, mentors, teachers, and friends, we can stand in the gap and lead the way to hope and help.
Many people believe the misconception that asking a person who is already in a low place about their thoughts of self-harm or suicide may plant the seed in their mind or introduce them to the idea. This is not the case! If a person is not already thinking about suicide, by asking them the right questions, we can help them feel heard and cared for and take action if necessary. Helping the individual bring their struggles into the light through honest and direct communication promotes well-being rather than invites self-destruction.
The Bible calls us to “carry each other’s burdens,” but how do we do this?
Nicole Kauffman shares that we are not called to pull others out of suffering but walk alongside them and to help carry the load. She states that we must remember it is not up to us to alleviate suffering but point those who are suffering to Christ, the one True Deliverer. Kauffman goes on to say we are called to love those with heavy burdens, and not to judge others’ burdens. She encourages us to not just look from an outside perspective and create our own opinions of why another is suffering or how they should fix it, but remember that it is not our responsibility to take away their pain but to walk through it with them.
Kauffman states that “suffering is not always a sign of something we are doing wrong. Sometimes we suffer so that God can prepare us for something greater” (Kaufman, 2016). She specifically spells out several reasons God allows suffering: “He uses times of suffering to break chains in our hearts...he allows suffering to purify us and bring us closer to Him...[and] he allows suffering to strengthen us in discipline.”
Many people wonder what the signs of suicide are and what steps they should be
taking if they see these signs. Keep in mind, most hurting individuals actually want help but may not know how to ask for it or where to go. If we can be an advocate for those who are hurting, we can help save lives. The Suicide Prevention Lifeline provides us with a list of risk factors, warning signs and feelings associated with suicidal thoughts to help us be proactive.
People who are at risk are those who struggle with mental disorders (and/or lack medical support), substance abuse, isolation and hopelessness, have a history of trauma, and major physical illness. Other risk factors include loss of relationship or job, access to lethal means, and previous suicide attempts and/or family history of suicide. The more risk factors that the individual has, the more likely they are to consider, attempt, or die by suicide.
So what questions do we ask? Asking questions about risk factors and suicidal feelings can help give someone a better understanding of whether or not the person is considering suicide. Below are two lists that may be helpful for you in evaluating the situation for yourself or someone else.
WARNING SIGNS/RISK FACTORS
If someone exhibits any of these signs, it is important to take action, especially if: (1) someone has risk factors, and (2) the behavior is new, has increased, or seems related to a painful event, loss, or change.
Talking about wanting to die or to kill themselves
Looking for a way to kill themselves, like searching online or buying a gun
Talking about feeling hopeless or having no reason to live
Talking about feeling trapped or in unbearable pain
Talking about being a burden to others
Increasing the use of alcohol or drugs
Acting anxious or agitated; behaving recklessly
Sleeping too little or too much
Withdrawing or isolating themselves
Showing rage or talking about seeking revenge
Extreme mood swings
Can’t stop the pain
Can’t think clearly or make decisions
Can’t see any way out or a future without pain
Can’t sleep, eat or work
Can’t get out of depression or make the sadness go away
Can’t see themselves as worthwhile
Can’t get someone’s attention or can’t seem to get control
Be direct. Talk openly and matter-of-factly about suicide.
Be willing to listen and allow the person to express his or her feelings without judging them; accept their feelings as valid.
Get involved. Become available, and show interest and support.
Don’t act shocked or challenge the person to do it.
Seek support. Let the person know you need to tell someone in order to keep them safe.
Offer hope that alternatives are available but do not offer glib reassurance.
Take action by removing means, like weapons or pills.
Get help from people or agencies specializing in crisis intervention and suicide prevention.
If you or someone you know is currently experiencing suicidal thoughts or feelings, please consider seeking out professional help.
For crisis intervention, please call 1-800-SUICIDE, 1-800-273-TALK, 1-800-799-4889 (for deaf or hard of hearing). Text support is also available by texting CONNECT to 741741.
The clinical staff at A&M Christian Counseling Center would love to come alongside you in your journey and help you find your place of hope.
“We Can All Prevent Suicide.” National Suicide Prevention Lifeline. SAMHSA and Vibrant Emotional Health. https://suicidepreventionlifeline.org/
Kauffman, Nicole. “How to Really Carry Each Other’s Burdens.” Church, Godly Living, Love, Wordpress. 26 October 2016, https://couragehopelove.com/really-carry-others-burdens/